Harry Manx to play at Britt Festival

Harry Manx is not your overnight success story. Born on the Isle of Man and raised in Canada, Manx didn't record his first album, the critically acclaimed "Dog My Cat," until 2000. But he has followed that with five more CDs that have won him a devoted following among fans of blues, folk and world music. His music is a unique, East-meets-West blend of blues and Indian music that's been called "Mysticsippi."

Manx and fellow guitarist Kevin Breit will open for rock legend Gregg Allman Sunday night at Britt.

Manx met Breit in 2001. Breit had been touring and recording with Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson. The two men met at a Canadian festival, played an unrehearsed set and wound up making the award-winning album "Jubilee" together. Manx and Breit's new album, "In Good We Trust," was recently recorded in four days.

"We just started touring together," Manx says in a phone interview from his home in Saltspring, near Vancouver Island. "We sound closer to a band than an acoustic duo."

When Manx met Breit and his trio, it was his first summer in the West after a dozen years in India.

"We shook hands and got on the stage," Manx says. "I started a tune and they were right on it. People loved it."

On the CD, Manx plays a cigar box guitar on a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire." The thing has three guitar strings and a bass string. Springsteen saw him play the song and came backstage and signed the ax. Manx also plays drums with his feet, a trick he picked up in his years a street busker.

"I spent 15 years as a one-man band," he says. "It gave me a sense of groove and rhythm."

Manx went to India in 1979 on the hippie trail. He'd been a roadie for Canadian rockers Rush at age 15, then toured with Jeff Beck. He stayed in India a year, then went back a few years later. A meditator since his teens, he spent time in ashrams, then started studying Indian sacred music and playing.

"You have to lift the energy," he says of Indian music. "It's very far from what I do now. But people talk about 'the Harry zone.' I still try to draw the people into something deeper."

He lived for five years with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the inventor of the mohan veena, a 20-string modified slide guitar with a somewhat otherworldly sound. He plays the instrument on "In Good We Trust."

Manx married a Japanese woman and lived in Tokyo and did his one-man band thing. Living in India from the mid-'80s through most of the '90s he would return to Japan once or twice a year and make enough money in a few weeks' gigs to live for months in India, to which he'd then return.

"It worked well," he says.

One day he and his second wife, a native of Brazil, were living in India, and they thought, wouldn't it be nice to have a refrigerator?

He was 45 and had no career. He returned to Canada and made his first record, which promptly won blues album of the year.

"So there's hope," he says.

When he first returned he thought he wouldn't fit in, let alone be successful in the music business.

"I thought I might play in an Indian restaurant or something," he says.

His music gets praised for being a new take on the blues, and for being inspirational.

"It can be just a matter of being in touch with feelings," he says.

He's left the Northern Blues label to found his own company, Dog My Cat, which has since signed several young artists.

"It's gone really well," he says. "We're helping some young guys. I'm really happy with that."

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